A Quarter of Mind: The Night Niko Turned–Part one

A Quarter of Mind: The Night Niko Turned (Part III)
Winifred hMensa

Niko sat bolt upright on his mat, once again awakened by the same nightmare. Beads of sweat traced down the contours of his face, his heart beating like a kettledrum. Shakily, he crossed his palms over his chest, afraid it might beat out of it. Images from the nightmare replayed in his mind, becoming more real as it spun in his head.

The night was still and moonlight streamed through the window. With it, he scanned the room for the creature that had moments ago towered above him. There was no sign of it. But chest still ached from its weight on him. He took off his sweat-stained shirt and dried himself with it. As he wiped himself down, a piercing pain shot through him from the left side of his chest. He looked down to see a newly formed scar in the shape of a double-bladed dagger, the symbol of his father’s clan.

Moments after, his father, Seko pulled aside the curtain hanging at the doorway and peered in. He looked at Niko, then to his other 2 children Kono and Sosi, who, unlike Niko, slept soundly on their mats. Kneeling beside Niko, he asked, “What is it, my son?” Niko looked up at his father and stuttered, “B…bon…bonsa…”

Seko calmly placed his left hand over his son’s chest and whispered, “Don’t worry my son, it’s just a bad dream,” easing his son back onto the mat. But it wasn’t just a dream and Niko knew it. That dreaded mystical creature, Bonsasa, he’d heard whispers about had been in his room just now. In his dream, he saw it rip apart everything in its path, the entire village included and it had come straight at him.

He could still smell its foul breath seeping through its enraged nostrils. This was more than a dream. It was as real as his dad was to him right now. “Go back to bed,” Seko implored, almost pleading with his son. Niko wanted to protest, but resistance failed him. Drained by the dream, he lay on the mat and pretended to sleep to the sound of his father’s humming. He knew there was something his father wasn’t telling him, but he was too afraid to ask.

Believing him to be asleep, Seko examined the scar on his 8-year-old son’s chest and muttered unintelligible words over him. Niko listened keenly, trying to memorize the words his father spoke. Somehow it seemed to soothe the pain from the scar and soon enough he drifted off.

Minutes before first light, Niko awoke. As the oldest son of the village chief, it was his job to sound the early morning gong – a job he did with the utmost pride. He looked out the window, hopeful for the day ahead. It was the morning after his 8th birthday and that day, his rite of passage as an heir to his father’s throne would be performed.

The village of Sekura was very traditional and deeply rooted in the culture of their ancestors. Located deep in the forest, they had very little or no contact with the outside world. And that was exactly how they wanted it. With a population of less than 300, everyone was everyone’s cousin and the bond between families was sacred.

Niko rolled up his mat, leaned it against the wall, and headed out into the courtyard of the palace. Kono and Sosi were still asleep. As he stepped out of the door, his newly acquired scar tingled. Too excited about striking the gong, he ignored it and walked to the 7-foot wooden frame on which the gong hung. Up on a stool, he reached for the cord that ran through the holes on the 15lbs metal disc. Mallet in hand, Niko swung with all his might, and the high-pitched sound it formed echoed through the village.

The first ring sounded and the cocks responded with a fervent ‘Kokrokoo!’ that was almost as loud as the bell, Niko thought. It was custom to ring it 5 times, as the number 5, they believed, brought blessings. Continuing, he swung a second, then a third, but on the fourth ring, the sharp pain returned and shot through his chest, where the scar was.

Reeling backward, he fell onto the gravel patch, getting the wind knocked out of him. Chief Seko who stood at a distance, saw Niko fall like a bag of yams and rushed towards him with much alarm. Niko had suddenly turned very pale, his breathing thinned, and the black of his pupil white. He knelt over him, placed his hand over the scar, and muttered those same incoherent words as before. Within seconds color had returned to his son’s face and he was breathing normally again, but the scar burned as though it was being seared with a hot iron. Niko screamed in anguish.

In no time, a number of the villagers had gathered in the palace, murmuring one to another. Never to the best of anyone’s memory, had there been anything less than 5 rings of the gong. Namde, one of the village elders, Niko’s uncle, said to the chief, “Keni (chief in their local dialect), we heard four strikes. Four strikes,” completely ignoring the state of his nephew. “Yes, we all heard it Namde,” Chief Seko responded as he picked up his feeble son and carried him into his room. “We must convene. Assemble the elders.”

Four strikes of the bell were a bad omen in Sekura. That was the first time it had happened in that generation. The older ones among them only knew the stories that had been passed down by their fathers, and them by their fathers up to 5 generations. This would be their own.

At midday that same day, a conclave was held. The 12 elders sat on stools in a u-shape in front of the village temple. Chief Seko sat at the open end. In line with custom, a single 3-twined cord was looped around the right ankle of each barefooted elder, starting with the chief who had it wound around his waist. It was a symbol of unity. Namde sat across from Chief Seko. As the linguist, he made sure all were seated before sounding the firikyiwa to signal the start of the meeting.

Chief Seko addressed the group, “Elders of Sekura, greetings. As you are all aware, for centuries, this village has lived here in peace without any misfortune. We have lived in harmony with the forest, its creatures, and with each other.” They all nodded in response. “However, our ancestors always foretold of a day retribution where their sins would be judged by the guardian of the land who they fought and displaced before settling here.”

This drew murmurings and uncomfortable reactions from the elders.

Niko was awakened by the murmurings that came from the conclave. He got up from his father’s mat and walked to the door, spying through one of its cracks.

Chief Seko put up his hands to quiet them down. The linguist followed through with repeated claps of the firikyiwa. The murmurings quieted and he went on with his speech.

“Only last week, 6 of our hunters returned from their trails mute. Also, 13 women have miscarried and 8 of our children have gone missing. Our crops have yielded only 30 percent of the expected harvest and our wells have refused to yield water. Because of this, we have been unable to make our yearly sacrifices as required.

“Last week, I was summoned by our seer. She told me of a vision she had early that morning. Two fiery lights the size of a pear seed swept through the village and devoured everything in its path. Then from nowhere, a ‘feeble weed’ arose from among us and conquered this adversary. She said this feeble weed, she said would have a sign…”

Niko looked down at the scar on his chest.

(To be continued).

>>>The author is a writer, poet, and pocket philosopher. She can be reached on [email protected] and or 0244691124

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